Based on actual 18th-century texts, David Lang’s anatomy theater follows the astonishing progression of an English murderess from confession to execution and, ultimately, public dissection before a paying audience of fascinated onlookers. Through the miracle of opera, she sings through it all.
Composed by David Lang, with libretto co-written by Lang and scenic designer Mark Dion, anatomy theater is a tuneful and grisly theatrical event that conjures a time when “specialists” traveled from town to town in pre-modern Europe, conducting public dissections of the corpses of executed criminals, seeking evidence of moral corruption in the interior of the human body. And as Lang himself warns in the liner notes, it’s not for the squeamish — and that includes the performers:
“No singers were harmed in the creation of this opera. It seems like an odd statement to make about an entertainment, but it is definitely appropriate to make it, since our piece is so full of terrifying things. Crime and punishment, execution, dissection, the thin line that separates moralistic cruelty from dispassionate scientific inquiry — they’re all there.”
Music by David Lang
Libretto by Mark Dion & David Lang
Conducted by Christopher Rountree
Performed by International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE)